WPA survey finds widespread sexual violence across WU fraternities

| News Editor

Women in Washington University sororities reported sexual harassment or assault by members of every Greek fraternity chapter in an independent survey commissioned by the Women’s Panhellenic Association.

Unwanted_Sexual_Contact_GraphicGraphic by Brandon Wilburn

The fraternities identified as being the most high-risk for sexual assault were Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). Fraternities identified as being the most high-risk for sexual harassment were SAE, AEPi and Sigma Chi, in addition to Phi Delta Theta, which was permanently suspended from campus in February.

The survey was completed by 848 women from every campus sorority, about half of all women in Washington University sororities. The survey examined the state of Greek community life on campus and focused on experiences of sexual violence. Of the 50 questions, two specifically asked which fraternity the perpetrators of sexual violence belonged to.

The lowest number of responses tallied for any fraternity on these questions was 16.

“Sixteen being the lowest number is still larger than any Writing 1 class,” Genevieve Leach, president of the Women’s Panhellenic Association (WPA), said. “Just that concept is absolutely devastating and I think deserves to be taken seriously.”

Respondents had the option to skip questions, and approximately 55 percent of sorority women responded to the survey.

The survey found that since becoming students at Washington University, 6 percent of respondents said they were forced to have vaginal sex at least once and 7 percent were forced to give oral sex.

Since becoming students at the University, most respondents reported at least one instance of unwanted sexual contact:

  • Seventy-three percent reported grinding.
  • Thirty-five percent reported kissing.
  • Forty-five percent reported touching above the waist.
  • Forty percent reported touching below the waist.

Since becoming a student at the University, some respondents also reported at least one instance of other forms of harassment:

  • Fifty-nine percent reported inappropriate comments about their body/appearance.
  • Thirty percent reported receiving unwanted offensive messages.
  • Thirty-eight percent reported having been continually asked out to get dinner, have drinks or have sex even though they had already said no.
  • Thirteen percent reported experiencing someone showing up somewhere or waiting for them in a way that made them afraid for their personal safety.
  • Seven percent reported being watched or followed either in person or through the use of devices or software in a way that made them afraid for their personal safety

Delta Gamma senior Rachel Lynn Braly was the creator of the survey and worked collaboratively with Rachel Hanebutt, the co-founder of Confi, a Boston-based research firm focused on sexual wellness, to design the survey. Hanebutt said that part of the survey’s goal was to investigate how widespread the problem of sexual violence is on campus.

Braly said that she expected that the survey would identify a few fraternities with low rates of harassment.

“The survey showed that that’s a myth,” Braly said. “There are no safe fraternities.”

SAE president Tristan Boomer, a junior, declined to comment on the results of the survey but said no fraternity should have any reports of sexual harassment.

In response to issues of sexual assault in Greek Life, the fraternity is currently redesigning a Google form for women who believe they have been sexually harassed or assaulted by an SAE member. The form would allow women to report their experience to a board of SAE members.

“We just think it can be a quicker process and give them a voice personally rather going through a bigger system,” Boomer said. “We feel like it empowers anyone who is in that situation.”

Theta Xi president and junior Michael Jesser said that sexual assault and harassment is not a problem unique to the University.

“Everywhere where party culture exists and things like that, there are always going to be inherent risks regarding personal safety, sexual assault and drinking habits,” Jesser said. “I think that the survey wanted to show that we are not an exception to the rule.”

Alpha Epsilon Pi president Nicholas Blenko declined to comment. Sigma Chi president Logan Brennan did not respond to a request for comment.

The survey found that about one in six women have had unwelcome sexual experiences. Specifically, 15 percent answered yes to whether they have had at least one experience of “vaginal or anal sex with someone when [they] really did not want to…or had vaginal or anal sex because the other person persistently tried to make moves even after [they] said no.”

Asked for more details, many of the women who reported unwelcome sexual experiences cited the following reasons:

  • Twenty-four percent said that they had vaginal or anal sex at least one time because they did not want to hurt the other person’s feelings.
  • Twenty-four percent said that they had vaginal or anal sex at least one time because they were hoping it would lead to something more romantically.
  • Twenty-eight percent said that they had vaginal or anal sex at least one time because they were in a relationship with the other person and they wanted to have sex.
  • Six percent said that they had vaginal or anal sex because someone physically forced them to.
  • Sixteen percent said that they had wanted to have manual sex or oral sex and were pressured into vaginal or anal sex at least one time.
  • Eighteen percent said that they had vaginal or anal sex at least one time because they did not want to be judged negatively.
  • Fourteen percent said that they had vaginal or anal sex at least one time because they did not want to be seen as inexperienced.
  • Two percent had vaginal or anal sex at least one time because they were drugged.

The survey included recommendations on how to increase campus safety, like adopting a “blacklist” policy on event attendee lists and introducing new safety training programs.

The report also classified fraternities into “high risk”, “medium risk” or “low-risk” categories depending on the chapter’s response rate to the questions regarding experiences of sexual harassment or assault at that fraternity.

Delta Gamma senior Katie Muson said that the data depended on factors like how frequently fraternities host parties.

“Every Greek organization should take a really good look at the reality of the consequences of their actions and decide if they’re willing to change going forward,” Muson wrote in a statement to Student Life.

Discussion around the issue of sexual assault and whether the University is doing enough to address it was accelerated last semester when Student Life published a series of anonymous op-eds by survivors of sexual violence.

In September, the University released a Title IX report in response to demands made by Title Mine, a student group that advocates for Title IX system reforms.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Rob Wild said he could not comment on the results of the survey because it was not conducted by the University, but said he has been working to address the underlying issues raised.

“This has been our top priority this fall, as we’ve been working not just in Campus Life, but across Student Affairs to address sexual assault and sexual violence,” Wild said.

The Interfraternity Fraternity Council plans to meet with Campus Life this week and those affiliated with the survey to discuss the results regarding campus fraternities and the steps they plan to take to address the issue.

Braly hopes that the survey will allow for more open discussion about the issue of sexual violence in Greek life.

“It’s just the first step,” Braly said. “The idea was to create a first step.”

  • Monica Alzate

    A quarter of the women or more had sex because they did not want to hurt the other person’s feelings, or to please the other person, or based on hopes of getting romance. This is a cultural problem reinforced by the media, popular songs, socialization. It goes beyond fraternities and sororities. Women need to learn to speak their minds even if it means the relationship will end. They need to learn they have the right to state what they like, what feels good, what hurts, what goes against their values, or simply what does not feel right when unsure. And men have both the duty to ask and the right to know, so that they can act accordingly.

  • Chester Riley

    Where can we find a copy of the blank survey?

  • Norman Pressman

    Is there anything such as “Wanted Sexual Contact” with a Fraternity member?